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Career Advice
Have a career question? Contact us and we'll do our best to answer it. If you do not want your question shown here, just say so. (Either way, we won't use your name, unless you ask us to).

    NEW      Motherhood and self-employment 
I am a mother of two boys and I have been wanting to start a home-based business. I am very interested in making invitations, business cards & etc. I know that I have to back away from my job soon and I need something to fall back on.
Tema Frank's Answer
I don't know about the specifics of the card business; you might  start with your local librarian for advice on that. A few general words of advice though:

When you say you will have to back away from your job soon and need something to fall back on, are you
suggesting that you are finding the work vs. family pressures too much? If so, do some careful financial
planning, and try to get your card business started before you leave your current job. It sounds like the sort of thing you could start in "your spare time" (Ha, ha -- as though a mother of two has spare time!) My point is
that it is likely to take quite a while to get your self-employment income to come close to whatever you are
currently earning, if you work full-time. Be prepared for that. Also bear in mind that if your children are young, you will still need child care. Don't imagine you can be creative and productive while they are crying, crawling or running around you. You may be able to get a little bit done while  they nap, but not enough to build a business.

Is there any chance you can convince your employer to let you reduce your workload a bit? Maybe negotiate a 4-day week? That would give you a bit more time in which to try  to get your business running. I recommend a book called "Going Part-Time" by Cindy Tolliver & Nancy Chambers for excellent, readable advice about things to consider and how to negotiate a change in work schedule. You may have to
order it through your library, as it seems to be out of print.

Boss Plays Favorites 
My co-worker is the boss's pet. How do I get ahead with such an unfair disadvantage?

Tema Frank's Answer
Think of it as a challenge. It is human nature to have some people we like more than others. But you don't have to be the boss's buddy to get him or her to appreciate you. Rare is the boss who can resist the appeal of an employee who produces great results. Realistically, "great results" means those that make your boss look good. So set up a meeting with your boss to discuss your career objectives and ways in which you can further them at the same time as helping the department or company meet its goals.

At the same time, volunteer for projects that involve other departments, so your good reputation will spread. That will eventually open up other opportunities for you, even if your own boss wants to keep your talents hidden.

Career Break 

I had the opportunity to take time off from work last April. I was a Senior Account Executive in a telecommunications company. Since leaving the company, I have been traveling and volunteering time for a nonprofit agency. I am now looking for work and I don't know how to address the 10 month gap on my resume. In addition, I would like to switch career paths and move into the healthcare industry. Any suggestions?

Tema Frank's Answer

Ideally, you would find ways to relate what you learned during that time off to what you want to do next. What skills did you learn through that volunteer work, for example, that would be relevant to the type of job you are now seeking?

I think that these days it can also be OK to indicate that after several years of being wrapped up in your career you chose to take a few months off to "recharge" and help you assess what you wanted to do next. It is OK as long as you can now communicate a clear sense of direction (i.e. give potential employers confidence that your "soul searching" time is over). You could simply state on your cv that you traveled (where) and did volunteer work (specify for whom, doing what) during that time. It is not like you were sitting at home watching TV for 10 months.

As to switching from telecommunications to health care, my first question is: Are you sure you really want to switch out of a booming, growing field to one in which the pay (particularly for women -- which I'm assuming you are to judge from your name) is typically worse? Money isn't everything, but be sure you've thought about it before deciding. Then, look at what SKILLS you have from your previous job, and think about how they could be applied in the health care profession.

Career change 
I am a 33 year old female with interests in literature, writing and the environment.
I have been in the document conversion field for about 7 years and want out. I have
researched area and online colleges and can get the type of education I am looking for.
However it will take years and I want to start getting into those areas of employment now.
How or where can I get a paying job in the literature or environmental preservation fields? I don't have to make a lot of money but I don't want to take a drastic cut either. Can you help?                        


Tema Frank's answer (First provided 2/29/00 at Xpertsite):

How about combining your interests in writing and the environment with some freelance
writing about the environment? You won't make a lot of money, but it is a way to use both skills/interests, to learn more and meet or speak to leaders in the field that interests you,
as well as to get your name known. That way, when it is time to job-hunt, you'll already have some work-related experience you can point to.

Check out Writers Digest books for information on the basics of how to get started in freelance writing. (I got my first sale after having read their book, "Handbook of Magazine Article Writing"). There are also several good sources on the web. Try Inkspot, for example. Do a search on "freelance writing" to find others.

The nice thing with this approach is that you can start out while still holding down your regular job. As you get more work you can try to negotiate fewer hours in your old job to free up more time for this. And/or as you develop more expertise through the research you do for the articles you write, you will be in a better position to land a job in the field even while you are continuing your studies.

Work-at-home jobs 

Are there really any decent work-at-home positions available that pay decent money???

Tema Frank's answer (first provided at Xpertsite):

That depends on your skills. Some of the best are jobs that you create yourself,
such as consulting work. But if, for example, you have hot skills such as computer
 programming, you can do very well working from home. If you are good at sales,
 there is potential to make money in telemarketing jobs, but for most people such
jobs don't end up earning much, and can be quite disheartening. Other jobs can
offer enough money to get by, and the huge bonus of the flexibility to combine
your work and personal life better, such as freelance writing.

The key is to assess why you want to work from home -- what are your tradeoffs
 in terms of the type of work you'd like to do, your skill set, and your need for
money -- and then look for (or create) something that will provide the right fit.


Discussing Raises 
I haven't had a raise in two years. My boss says it's company policy, but I know others have been getting raises. How do I talk to him about this?


Tema Frank's answer (first provided in Modern Woman career column):

First, you've got to get the facts. Is it really company policy? Or could your boss be unhappy with your performance? Communication is key to solving this problem, advises Leslie Nadeau, president of HR Business Partners in Calgary. “Be completely honest with yourself....What were you hired to do? What have you accomplished during the past two years?” In what areas have you met or gone beyond expectations? Where are you still struggling? You can identify your weak spots by finding the parts of your job you'd love to delegate, suggests Mrs. Nadeau.

Then meet with your boss. Tell him you want to make sure that you're doing a good job for the organization. Ask him what three areas he feels you're handling well, and in which three you could use improvement. If there are problem areas, agree to plan of action for overcoming them, and postpone the pay discussions until you've done so.

If he is happy with your performance but lacks the clout to get you a raise, discuss other options. Maybe he could give you extra vacation time, or other perks and benefits.

Finally, Mrs. Nadeau warns that "we all think that we are worth this much money; but the job we are doing may not be worth this much in the marketplace. If you want to earn more money you may have to take on more responsibility.”


Muscle pain 

I often get a stiff neck, sore wrists, shoulders and back at work. How can I
make my office more ergonomically friendly?


Tema Frank's answer (first provided in Modern Woman career column):

Making your muscles work for a living can be a good thing if you are constantly moving and changing position. But the workout muscles get in office jobs is a struggle against gravity, and that's a pain in the neck (and elbows, and wrists,...).

Geoff Wright, of Ergonomics Plus, advises designing your work station so that all of your body parts are in a “gravity neutral” position. “A lot of aches and pains are caused by having to reach too far for a mouse, tilt your head to read a screen, or lift your arms for a keyboard.” If you can hire an ergonomics expert, great, but if not, here are a few things to look for:

Keyboard: Place it so that your upper arms hang loosely at your sides, and your forearm, wrists and hands are in a straight line, parallel to the floor. The keyboard should be just barely above your knees. If it can't be lowered, raise your chair and put blocks underneath your feet so that they still rest on a flat, firm surface.
Screen: Should be straight ahead of you, with your eyes level with the top of the screen.
Mouse: Level with the keyboard. Numeric keypads make you stretch too far, notes Mr. Wright, so if you've got one, learn to use your mouse with your left hand.
Telephone: If your calls often last more than five minutes and/or you have to type while listening, get a headset.

Lighting: Glare usually comes from windows or neighbouring workstations. Best is to equip everybody with special fixtures that focus the light straight down. Avoid having windows directly in front of or behind your computer screen.

Chair: You should be able to sit right back, the armrests should support your arms without forcing them up, and the chair should not slope backwards.